Obama Putting Heavy Imprint On Big Speech


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Barack Obama is tweaking his pivotal health care address to a joint session of Congress right up until the last minute, with top aides saying he's putting a heavy imprint on a speech in which he will finally lay out specific details for Congress to consider.

Top aides say the president worked on the speech late into Tuesday night in the White House residence, then brought yet another new draft down to the Oval Office on Wednesday morning for his staff to work through. Obama had taken a rough first draft of the speech to Camp David this past weekend and spent a lot of time re-working it, bringing back handwritten notes of what he wanted to say.

"The president hopes tonight to bring some clarity to the debate," one senior administration official said Tuesday.

Several administration officials say the president will make a strong push for a public option, but he will not draw a line in the sand over a government-run insurance plan. That leaves the door open for Congress to come up with another option, such as a co-op or a "trigger," in which a public option would only kick in if insurance companies fail to make reforms within a defined period of time.

"The president still believes the public option is the best way to bring choice and competition," said the senior administration official. "It's how we bring security and stability to hundreds of millions of Americans."

A second senior administration official said while the president will use the speech to reach out to Republicans in hopes of a last-minute bipartisan compromise, he also plans to get tough with the other side by challenging them to step up and meet him halfway instead of letting the status quo to continue.

"The defenders of the status quo are bankrupting America," this administration official said of Republicans.

White House aides say the president will prod Republicans by noting there is vast agreement on many key facets of health reform, and Obama will get much more specific about where he stands.

Among the ideas the president will endorse include adopting health insurance reform that would include a cap on end of life expenses, a ban on using pre-existing conditions to deny coverage, and an end to so-called "recissions" -- in which insurance companies drop coverage after people get unexpected illnesses.

One senior administration official suggested the president has already succeeded even before delivering the speech by getting "broad agreement" over the fact that the health-care system as it exist now is broken. Several officials also said that scheduling the high-profile speech prodded Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, to edge closer to securing a deal with the so-called "Gang of Six" senators on his panel.

The senior administration official noted that even luminaries in the Republican party are acknowledging there is a "health-care crisis," citing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's op-ed commentary in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

The official said with a heavy dose of sarcasm that "Governor Palin in this essay I know wrote herself, in acknowledging all the complexities of the issue ...acknowledged the health-care crisis."

That same senior administration official said both Democratic and Republican lawmakers now believe "something has to get done" otherwise doing nothing "would be a political failure."

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